For the infrequent visitor, the neighborhood around First and Folsom streets may seem like a culinary wasteland. Yet it’s one of the most densely populated areas in town, with new apartment and condominium high-rises going up as we speak. So it’s no surprise that Franz Meis’ classy Rincon Hill restaurant and bar Local Kitchen is hopping with local residents and downtown workers — some for the California wine, some for the drinks and many for the food.
Local Kitchen: 330 First St., San Francisco, (415) 777-4200
How long have you been here? Local Kitchen has been here for 3½ years, and I took over two years ago. It’s an amazing restaurant and we’re doing very well. We serve lunch and dinner and we have happy hour from 4 to 6:30.
Why are you so busy? It’s a tremendously interesting neighborhood. There are actually 7,000 residents in the surrounding two blocks. It’s amazingly dense. Most units are owned, not rented, and a new 300-unit building just broke ground several days ago. Its seems like no-man’s land, but it’s not. We’ve taken a good chunk of the lunch crowd and we are getting people from Orrick, Gymboree, Black Rock and Charles Schwab.
How would you describe the decor? It’s modern, but not cold. All of the wood keeps it very warm. The prints behind the mesh hark back to the waterfront unions nearby.
What’s the cocktail program like? I am an old-school bartender with respect for the modern-day world. We have spirit-driven cocktails with a lot of high-end product. The portions are very good and the drinks change with the season. We have our own creations along with the classics. We have all fresh juices and syrups.
How do you come up with your drinks? We will sit around a table like we are writing a script and throw around ideas. We test them on our regulars.
What’s your bar philosophy? I try to remind everyone that what separates a good bar is the bartender himself. The service. Taking care of regulars. When I started at Perry’s [1944 Union St.], there were seven guys named Mike, including Mike McCourt. The emphasis was truly on hospitality. Treat everyone like you care without faking it. Anyone can make a cocktail. It’s easier than being a chef. What makes a bar special? That experience you had with the bartender.
How did you get your start? Perry’s was one of the busiest bars in San Francisco and I was there from 1986 to 1992. There was a three-hour wait for brunch and people would wait. Willie Brown, Joe Montana and Herb Caen would go there. The people who worked there had to know what they were doing. I had my eye on the bar from the get go and when I finally got behind the bar, I was the youngest bartender they ever hired.
What’s the food like here? It’s Italian comfort food. Everything is fresh every day. We have all local producers and we do amazing pizzas. Our rotisserie chicken rivals Zuni’s. It’s a three-day process. First we bring it, then we marinate it, then we rotisserie it in a wood-burning stove.
Combine in a shaker over ice. Shake and pour into a martini glass. Garnish with one olive stuffed with Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.